The White House was no doubt embarrassed when the day after President Obama’s speech tying opponents of the Iran deal to Iran “hardliners” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the expected successor to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as the Democrats’ Senate leader, came out against the deal with a reasoned, stinging declaration of opposition. But, as is its habit, the White House and its allies made a bad situation worse by proceeding to denigrate and insult Schumer.

The White House and its acolytes have now stooped lower than many imagined was possible, as the New York Post editorial board pointed out:

Anti-Semitism is all over the drive to make Chuck Schumer shut up about his opposition to the Iran nuke deal.
The lefty site Daily Kos posted a cartoon showing Schumer with an Israeli flag and calling him a “traitor.”
MoveOn argues that “our country doesn’t need another Joe Lieberman in the Senate,” a reference to Connecticut’s ex-senator — who, like Schumer, is Jewish.
White House buddy Fareed Zakaria waved at anti-Semitic stereotypes, saying Schumer’s motive is just “money” — “If he were to support President Obama on this, if he were to support this deal, he knows it would create a firestorm of opposition, particularly among, perhaps, you know, wealthy supporters.”
Of course, Obama himself griped about pressure from “lobbyists” — i.e., Jewish and pro-Israel activists — spending “tens of million of dollars” to stop the deal. He reportedly blamed “the pro-Israel community” for stirring up a fight.

Now some liberals are counterattacking.

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Overstating the case for the agreement belies the gravity of the issue and does more to breed distrust than win support. Smearing critics is even less effective. In his speech, the president suggested that critics of the deal are the same people who argued for the war in Iraq. The message wasn’t very subtle: Those who oppose the agreement are warmongers. (Of course, those who voted for the Iraq War resolution in 2002 include Obama’s vice president and secretary of state.)
Then he went further, saying: “It’s those hardliners chanting ‘Death to America’ who have been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican caucus.” From a president who often complains about hyper-partisanship, and whose stated aim is to elevate the discourse, the public deserved something better.
Emblematic of all this — and what has prompted me to write — was the treatment of Senator Chuck Schumer. In his thoughtful statement opposing the deal, Schumer noted that the best course of action is not clear. Reasonable people can and do disagree. Yet rather than acknowledging a respectful difference of opinion, the president’s spokesperson and others close to the White House suggested that Schumer’s decision may cost him the opportunity to become the leader of the Senate’s Democratic caucus. What they should have said is: President Obama signed legislation that gives Congress a voice on any deal with Iran. This debate is far bigger than partisan politics, and personal political considerations should play no role in deciding it.

Likewise, Democratic presidential candidate and former Virginia senator Jim Webb slammed the White House’s tactics. “I think we need to put country ahead of party. It troubles me when I see all this debate about whether this is disloyalty to the president or the Democratic Party, particularly with what Chuck Schumer has gone,” he said. “I think I’ve always done that, I think that’s what leadership is, particularly in foreign policy. They said that I was wrong to oppose the invasion of Iraq, they said I was wrong to want to bring Burma into the international community, they said I was wrong to question the Arab Spring, they said I was wrong to oppose the Libyan intervention, and with all due respect, I think they were wrong. And I think they were wrong to criticize Chuck Schumer right now.”

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Schumer has smartly responded by dismantling yet another Obama argument for his Iran deal. “Some say the only answer to this is war. I don’t believe so. I believe we should go back and try to get a better deal. The nations of the world should join us in that.” Ouch. In other words, Schumer is not about to be intimidated.

A Senate staffer observed, “After the president said he would ‘welcome scrutiny of the details of this agreement,’ it has been pretty shocking to see how the White House has treated Senator Schumer since announcing his opposition to the Iran deal.” Rather than strike fear into the hearts of other lawmakers, the result has been harsh coverage of the president’s tactics, bipartisan support for Schumer and widespread realization that if the deal were that good and the votes were there, the White House would not be stooping to Chicago, bare-knuckle politics. When the New York Times reports that the White House may have gone over the line and is now hurting its cause you know the White House has blundered.

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Contrary to a number of political pundits who are certain the president will have the votes to override a veto, the White House’s recent behavior coupled with unsubtle echoes of anti-Semitic tropes tells us it does not have the votes presently to sustain a veto and that its briefings have not allayed the fears of responsible lawmakers. That should encourage opponents of the deal who pledge to redouble their efforts in the weeks leading up to the vote. Moreover, the White House risks inflaming Jewish voters, even liberals who might support the president out of loyalty and provoke them to lobby lawmakers. (Jeff Robbins writes, “Criticism of his deal, our president says, is the work of ‘money,’ ‘donors’ and ‘lobbyists’ who ‘demand’ war, and whose ‘drumbeat for war’ is motivated by their ‘affinity for . . . Israel.’ The specter of an American president using the time-honored rhetorical weapons of anti-Semites to improve poll numbers has been sickening to many, but perhaps most of all to American Jews who voted to elect and then re-elect him.”) It’s not clear these tactics are doing anything to engage Obama’s base, but they sure have fired up the opposition.

I asked an activist in support of the deal why the president is behaving this way. The answer: This is all he and his political hatchet men know. It turns out it is spectacularly unsuited to the moment. Whether that will cost him support is unknown, but he surely is making his critics’ job easier.

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